Discussion of the play PICNIC for bookclub or anybody

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by rockgor, Apr 26, 2008.

  1. rockgor

    rockgor Well-Known Member

    Hi Kids

    I'm subbing for ken (at his request).

    We have arrived at Discussion Time for Picnic by William Inge. (I'm at a bit of disadvantage since I already sent my copy of Picnic back to the library.)

    A list of great American playwrights should include Inge and about a dozen others such as his friend Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, Thorton Wilder, Neil Simon, George S. Kauffman and Moss Hart.

    Inge was born in 1913 and grew up in Independence, Kansas, the hometown of Harry S. Truman. Inge was a graduate of the U. of Kansas and Peabody College. He worked as a teacher and a drama critic before his first play was produced.

    Starting w/ Come Back Little Sheba when he was age 36, he had a string of four hits. (Little Sheba only ran a few months but it was an award winner.

    The others were Picnic, Bus Stop and The Dark at the top of the Stairs. These were all authentic hits. All four plays were made into movies.

    In 1960 Inge wrote the screenplay for Splendor in the Grass and won a screenwriter's Oscar.

    After all this success, his subsequent works did not do well. Inge became an alcoholic and killed himself in 1973 when he was 60.

    All of the four above plays are the kind producers like: only one set. Cheaper to produce. All involve small towns in the Mid-west; ordinary people; boredom and longing to escape; alcoholism; family relationships; the tension between sexual attraction and taboo conduct.

    Books on writing frequently tell writers not to have characters with similar names. It is recommended that no two characters have names that start w/ the same letter.

    Did you find it troublesome to distinguish between Madge and Millie?

    What do you think of the title? There's no picnic on stage.

    When I was a kid it was pretty common to go on a picnic. Has this simple entertainment become a memory of times gone by. Do you have picnic memories?

    What characteristics do the men in Picnic share?

    And the women?

    Were you satisfied w/ the ending? Should it have been more precise...definite?

    Inge said growing up in a small town is good for writers. How else would they gain any knowledge about human kind? Do you agree?

    So there you have it. There are no right or wrong answers; in fact, you needn't answer the questions at all.

    Anybody for another hot dog or more potato salad?


  2. kholmes

    kholmes New Member

    You may have to sub for me more often. I liked your Phyllis Diller/Johnny Carson analogy. Some people think I look a little like David Letterman.

    Great background on Inge (the playwright whose name comes up on crossword puzzles more than any other), and great questions on the play.

    I enjoyed Picnic. The last play I read was The Merchant of Venice two years ago, and I forgot how much fun they can be to read and direct in my head. Just finished reading Bus Stop last night, which I liked even better.

    Will have to get back to you on the questions because I'm off this afternoon with my wife for a... picnic!

  3. mollystwin

    mollystwin New Member

    Hi Rock. Great discussion questions!!

    I did have trouble distinguishing Madge and Millie. Didn't realize it was because they shared the same first initial!!

    My copy of the play (which is actually Molly's) has a pic of the original cast in the front. I'ts kinda small, but you can see an actor without a shirt on and a bunch of women. I figured it would be Paul Newman without the shirt, but no! He played Alan the other guy!! What a surprise.

    I was also surprised that Howard actually married Rosemary. Or that Rosemary even wanted to be married at all!

    I really thought that somehow Alan would end up with Millie, but maybe she was too young for that.

    I love picnics. We still do them from time to time.

    Ken, I hope you enjoyed your picnic today!!

  4. Rosiebud

    Rosiebud New Member

    great questions Rock and good insight into the play.

    I havent finished it yet, almost though.

    Did I say I had Paul Newman in my head when I pictured Hal.

    I kept getting confused by the girls too and like Molly didn't realise it was because their names start with 'M' - I had to keep stopping and figuring out if it was the beauty or the brains.

    Will get back tomorrow once I've read some more. I am enjoying it though.

    Nice to have a mental pic of Ken now - David Letterman. Who do you look like Rock?


    [This Message was Edited on 04/28/2008]
  5. rockgor

    rockgor Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the complimentary remarks. What do I look like? Ok, Rosie, I'll let you guess:

    Like Montgomery Cliff;
    Like Tyrone Power;
    Like my father when he was old and fat.

    I remember when I was about 40, my plump, middle-aged secretary brought in a picture from earlier years. She looked like a movie star. I was shocked.

    Since then I've talked to several people my age who have said, "I saw some old pictures the other day. I really wasn't bad looking when I was young, but I never realized it."

    I got CFS when I was 39. I was so depressed and out of touch w/ reality that I gained 30 pounds and didn't know I was gaining anything.

    Can you tell I'm a little depressed today? Ok, more than a little.

    You're right, Ken. I've seen "Inge" in crosswords, but never Shakespeare. How was the picnic?

    I find reading plays much harder than watching them. It's like the message board. No facial expressions or vocal tones to help w/ interpretation.

    In "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I had a terrible time figuring out a conversation. It was because there were two conversations going on simultaneously.

    When I read Shakespeare I got hung up on the archaic language. When I saw it at the Gutherie, the action, delivery, etc. made the meaning clear.

    Guess I'll go read my Victorian detective story. I think it's due today.

  6. kholmes

    kholmes New Member

    The weather was perfect, the food delicious, and the ants scarce. It was with my wife and one friend, so there were only three of us. Food does taste better outside, sometimes. My best picnic memories are of family picnics in small city parks, along the Mississippi River, or in little towns in Wisconsin. My dad liked to take us on day trips.

    Rock, I liked your comparison between reading plays and reading this message board. Sometimes it's hard to catch the tone of what people are saying.

    Good title. Simple, memorable. Life is certainly not a picnic for everyone in this play, though it's that idea social setting we all long for at times. Nobody ever got to the picnic in the play, but it gave the play a dramatic direction.

    Picnic was especially hard to read in a way, not only because of the character names, but the inordinate number of stage directions. Bus Stop was actually much clearer.

    I did get the M sisters confused. In fact, I thought Inge threw too many characters into the plot in the first half.

    Time for dinner, so I'll to have to give more thought to the other questions.

    I'm curious, what do people think this play was about, ultimately?
  7. Rosiebud

    Rosiebud New Member

    I'll go for Montgomery Cliff as your look alike, he had the most amazing eyes, a beautiful man. His was a sad life though wasnt it.

    I gained a load of weight too with this illness. Lost all my 'beautiful' looks too - ah well, what can one do. Wee and round with a sometimes pretty face.

    I agree with Ken that there was too much stage direction, it's very off putting. I still havent finished the play but will very soon.
  8. rockgor

    rockgor Well-Known Member

    "I'm curious, what do people think this play was about, ultimately?"

    Ken's question above.

    Robert Ardrey, who wrote books, plays and screenplays, was the author of Territorial Imperative. One of those best-selling scientific books written for non-scientists.

    He said people need three things: identity, security, and stimulation. Most of the people in Inge's plays want to escape the small town, the boredom, the lower to middle class existence that they are tired of.

    At the end of the play Madge (the beauty) decides to risk her security for the stiumlation (romance, travel) of going after Hal. She realizes things may not work out, but she is willing to take the chance.

    Inge wrote about his plays. What he said is not too clear, but then he was trying to express the ineffable:

    I have never sought to write plays that primarily tell a story; nor have I sought deliberately to create new forms. I have been most concerned with dramatizing something of the dynamism I myself find in human motivations and behavior.

    I regard a play as a composition rather than a story...

    A play should be a journey in which every moment should be as interesting as the destination.


  9. Cromwell

    Cromwell New Member

    William Inge's stories are all along a similar theme as Rock mentioned-in fact Bus Stop was just on Indie channel this week, with Maralyn Munroe playing the cafe singer-it seemed almost hokey.

    Picnic was a good movie fpor it's time and the, play, of which I confess I only got part way through and then skimmed
    I must say is probably his best and one that translates a little easier to today's society.

    It would be hard for a younger person to really grasp the social norms which were so different and the base for this play, where social morays are being broken and pretending to be kept.

    It was enjoyable to read a play for a change, mine had all sorts of cliff notes from some production company in the margins-in fact it looked sort of "home produced" I wonder if it was?

    Re small town writers. Well there certainly have been many of them who use the home town as their "material". I wonder how that would work these days too, as so many people move such a lot. In those days people stayed close to home inclusing relatives etc.

    I just read a book about a woman who lives in the "real" Peyton Place" and refers to Grace Metalious all the time and how her life was in the end dreadful, I believe she died an alcoholic quite young.

    Thomas Wolfe was very affected by his peers in Ashville and shunned rather by them.

    That's it. Love Annie
  10. Cromwell

    Cromwell New Member

    I think it was really about letting others see that there was hidden sexuality and the social impediments of the day being broken or longing to be broken. It was shocking to some I understand when he first wrote it as a short story then expanded it later. I think originally it was penned prior to WW2? maybe?

    As you said, it really is all about the women being bored wanting to escape and the confusion of the men who have very fixed roles.

    Interestingly, some of the mores of the day were things like wearing a hat outdoors etc.

    I used to belong to a club in the UK that had been The Cotton Barons club at one time, but when I joined ladies were allowed in if voted in. It had become far more of a social club in the 1970's.

    They had the old ledgers where the members could write comments. Apparently, once a year or so, members were allowed to bring in a lady on certain priviledges. Here is roughly what was written in the book circa 1950

    "Harold....so and so, brought a "lady" into this club last evening who had the audacity to sit AT the bar, crossing her legs and also removed her hat in mixed company."

    I have reported this unacceptable conduct to the Board.

    Later, poor Harold was excommunicated from the club!!! I always recall this as it seemed so funny even 25 years later.

    Of course, these days we have just the opposite where we cannot seem to get away from sexuality.

  11. Rosiebud

    Rosiebud New Member

    Ultimately, to me, this was about people who felt trapped in a small town by propriety, by family ties.

    Madge, with only her beauty to fall back on, realises there is another world out there, maybe not as secure as the one she would have with rich Allan but one with more exciting prospects.

    There are a lot of sexual undertones, the spinster teacher begging her 'lover' to marry her, her last chance to escape from spinsterdom.

    I enjoyed it but have to say I prefer novels.